The staff in my local Sainsbury’s are friendly and courteous enough. All the same, it’s not as though I keep a record of how many smiles they give me, or whether or not they’ve used a sufficiently welcoming tone when asking for my Nectar card. The fact is, I don’t have to because someone else – their managers, I presume – are doing this on behalf of customers like me. Right now the shelf-stackers are 100% me-friendly whereas the checkout staff – rude bastards – only come in at 83%. I know this because it’s on a sheet of A4, laminated and propped up right in front of every checkout worker, alongside a list of values they need to project and behaviours they must adopt (summary: smile till your face aches, then smile just that little bit more).
Every time I see this it embarrasses and saddens me in equal measure. I almost want to tell whoever’s serving me “look, you don’t need to grin like a maniac. Tell me to fuck off – I won’t complain”. Of course, I’ve never done this, as I imagine it would freak people out. Nonetheless, to tell the truth, I’m more than a little freaked out at being served by people who, rather than simply being allowed to get on with their jobs, are forced to stare at aggressive missives ordering them to be really fucking happy or else.
I thought of this when reading in the Guardian of a list of words staff who work in Jamie Oliver’s are meant to use when describing the specials. As you’d expect, it’s words such as “scrummy”, “dollop”, “magic” and “proper rustic”. It’s all rather 1990s, and somewhat cringe. I don’t know whether you’re obliged to use a mockney accent when reading out what’s on offer, but it wouldn’t surprise me. It does make me uncomfortable. I understand that waiting staff are, to a certain extent, marketing the food, and that you market particular items using particular words, but still. This feels over the top. Moreover, as with the Sainsbury’s smile commandments, you get the impression of an organisation in which “the little people” aren’t trusted or given the autonomy to use their own words and facial expressions. So many over-familiar words and gestures, so little actual humanity.
It’s not as though I like rubbish customer service. I don’t enjoy it when people are unclear or rude to me. All the same, I would genuinely prefer it if whoever makes these decisions about what frontline staff should and shouldn’t do could have a little more respect for the staff themselves. I want respect myself, but I want to have interactions with people who are respected. Instead I pop out to buy a loaf of bread and some Monster Munch and end up feeling complicit in the wilful humiliation of whoever’s ringing things up at the till. I don’t want people to be ordered to grin at me! I’m a miserable sod! I don’t deserve it!
Perhaps I am over-reacting. I don’t know. Let me know in the comments. Then I will write things up and laminate the final list of “positive behaviors in response to the Sainsbury’s positive behaviours list”, and carry this with me whenever I go shopping. Seriously, when you’re as socially inept as me, it’s vital not to mess these things up.